Lower property taxes for Costa Mesa?

Costa Mesa Charter Committee member wants to discuss equalizing the rates that homeowners pay.

November 19, 2013|By Bradley Zint

A member of the committee tasked with drawing up a charter for Costa Mesa has an idea for the document, and he knows it's a controversial one: Allow the city to gradually give up and not collect its slice of property taxes.

This could be done gradually over a 20-year period, according to Hank Panian, who says his so-called evenhanded solution may help solve the inherent inequities created since Proposition 13, the pivotal 1978 voter decision that capped the tax.

Much to the ire of its critics, under Proposition 13, newer property owners pay their property taxes based on the present-day assessment of their properties, while older owners — Panian included — pay based on 1970s valuations.


"I think the proposal is plausible," Panian said in an interview. "Whether it's acceptable is another matter."

The county collects property taxes, which then get divvied up among various governmental agencies, including school districts. Under Panian's scenario, those other entities would keep their portions of the revenue.

The technicalities of Panian's idea, both financial and legal, are still unknown to city officials, however.

What would happen to Costa Mesa's portion of the property tax dollar should the city forfeit its cut? Would it effectively lower owners' tax bills? Or would they pay the same and have the city's cut simply distributed elsewhere?

Costa Mesa collected $21.5 million in property taxes last fiscal year. Officials estimate receiving $22.2 million in the 2013-14 fiscal year — nearly 22% of the city's general fund.


was scheduled to discuss his proposal, which would apply to both residential and commercial properties, before the Costa Mesa Charter Committee on Nov. 13, but as the hours ticked by, the meeting was adjourned and his presentation postponed to Dec. 11.

Before everyone left, Panian passed out information. He briefly summarized the basics, calling his idea fully plausible, highly controversial and worthy of serious consideration.

"It's a moral imperative, I think," Panian told the group. "Even though I might be good at heart, I may be wrong with the idea."

Committee member Ron Amburgey expressed immediate enthusiasm: "Where do I sign?" he quipped.

In his four-page handout, Panian, a retired Orange Coast College history professor, lamented today's economic climate.

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